The Japanese have a word for it: kuidaore, “to eat oneself bankrupt.” This has risen to some combination of tradition and aspiration in Osaka, Japan’s second-largest city, a former merchant enclave once referred to as the country’s “kitchen.” You can see exactly what empties Osakan bank accounts on Al Jazeera English’s series Street Food. Its episode on the city (part one, part two), embedded above, seeks out the stands that most efficiently cater to the citizenry’s characteristic busyness, the source of the freshest sushi around, the barbecue counters of Koreatown, the poisonously-livered fugu fish, the ideally controversial dish that is whale meat, and a range of food writers and critics to lay down some culinary insight. The program finishes its journey with one visit to a culinary academy and another to the poorer side of this Japanese metropolis. Being a Japaneese metropolis with more poverty than most but also one a greater love of eating than most, Osaka has produced street food even among its street people.
There you have the basic form of a Street Food broadcast, each of which takes on a different world city, all of which operate under the theory that the best path into a culture runs through its alleys most dense with comestible commerce. In the episode just above (part one, part two), Montreal’s meeting of English and French sensibilities, a slightly uneasy coexistence in the best of times, turns into an all-out ideological conflict on the subject of how to eat. One particularly important skirmish occurs over poutine, the French fry, cheese curd, and gravy dish essential to any investigation of Montreal cuisine. In the episode below (part one, part two), we see the elements of Spanish and Andean eating finally converging on the streets of Lima — aided, in a big way, by flavors brought in by the Peru’s many immigrants from Asian. Admittedly, the convergence isn’t complete, not will it be until Limeños not of native descent come to enjoy the city’s most popular item of street food, with 65 million eaten every year: the guinea pig.
All episodes of Al Jazeera English’s Street Food on YouTube:
- Beijing (part one, part two)
- Cairo (part one, part two)
- Fez (part one, part two)
- Jerusalem (part one, part two)
- Kingston (part one, part two)
- Lima (part one, part two)
- London (part one, part two)
- Montreal (part one, part two)
- Nairobi (part one, part two)
- New York (part one, part two)
- Osaka (part one, part two)
- Palermo (part one, part two)
- Zanzibar (part one, part two)
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.
A good friend of mine, and English professor in Xian, China, produces a series by the same name with, apparently, the same MO. His episodes are all much shorts, none going deeper than five minutes, I believe.
I’ll post it here for anyone interested in checking it out.